San Juan de Ulua | Attraction Guides | History Hit

San Juan de Ulua

Veracruz, Veracruz, Mexico

Sarah Roller

24 Nov 2020
Image Credit: Jose Covarrubias / Shutterstock.

About San Juan de Ulua

San Juan de Ulua is a sixteenth century fortress in Veracruz in Mexico.

History of San Juan de Ulua

Construction began in the 1530s, during the Spanish Colonial period: the fort was built in order to protect the country’s most vital port, Veracruz.

The Spanish used Veracruz to import and house many Spanish treasures and, as such, San Juan de Ulua was built to the highest specifications, with 3-foot thick stone walls and an imposing 250 cannons. San Juan de Ulua eventually became the main entry point for all newcomers to Mexico throughout Spanish colonial rule.

In 1568, San Juan de Ulua was put to the test as an English fleet carrying slaves tried to dock at Veracruz. Although a shaky truce was in place between Spain and England, a battle broke out, known as the Battle of San Juan de Ulúa, and the English were defeated, losing most of their five ships. In fact, so formidable was San Juan de Ulua that the Spanish would hold on to it throughout the Mexican War of Independence and until 1825, four years after Mexico became independent.

In 1848, during the Mexican-American War, the US did manage to overcome the defences of San Juan de Ulua, capturing Veracruz. The fortress was heavily damaged by this attack. San Juan de Ulua then went on to become a nineteenth century prison, becoming the home of some of Mexico’s most notorious criminals. Legend has it that sharks were kept in the waters surrounding the prison to deter any potential escapees.

San Juan de Ulua today

San Juan de Ulua is open to the public, who can tour its defences and prison cells. It’s extremely atmospheric and relatively well preserved. Guides are available in Spanish and English, and can be useful in bringing the building to life.

The fortress is on the water, and it’s a lovely spot to soak up some atmosphere.

Getting to San Juan de Ulua

San Juan de Ulua is on the harbour arm in Veracruz – a boat across is the easiest way if you can find one. It’s about a 10km bus or taxi ride by road otherwise. Veracruz itself is on Mexico’s east coast, about 5 hours from Mexico City.

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